UNDP Strategy Highlights How Gender Equality Can Drive SDG Progress


By Catherine Benson Wahlen

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has released its third gender equality strategy, covering the years 2018-2021. The Strategy provides a road map for elevating and integrating gender equality into all aspects of UNDP’s work on poverty reduction, resilience and peace. The Strategy has the broader aim of accelerating progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In the ‘UNDP Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2021,’ UNDP stresses gender equality as a “fundamental human right and a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world” that is critical to achieve the SDGs. The Strategy highlights UNDP’s commitment to accelerate gender equality and women’s empowerment through interventions to accelerate structural transformations for gender equality through four priority areas. These areas are:

●Removing structural barriers to women’s economic empowerment, including their disproportionate burden of unpaid care work;
● Preventing and responding to gender-based violence;
● Promoting women’s participation and leadership in all forms of decision-making; and
●Strengthening gender-responsive strategies in crisis, conflict and disaster prevention, preparedness and recovery.

For example, to address women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid care work, the Strategy recommends ensuring women’s equal rights to property, credit, land and natural resources, decent work and equal access to basic services including health care, and engaging men in care work. Such efforts would drive progress across the SDGs, including on SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities).

UNDP plans to strengthen the integration of gender equality into its work on the environment, energy, and crisis response and recovery, as well as to improve programming alignment with gender equality and women’s empowerment. UNDP states it can act as an “integrator for helping countries deliver on the Goals by ‘connecting the dots’ on complex sustainable development issues,” such as through addressing the gender dimensions on eradicating poverty, in line with SDG 1, and sustaining peace, in line with SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

The Strategy argues that achieving SDG targets on closing gender gaps will have multiplier effects across the SDGs. As an illustration, reaching equal educational attainment and labor force participation by 2030 can increase global gross domestic product (GDP) by USD4.4 trillion, or 3.6%, and reduce the share of the global population living in extreme poverty by 0.5 percentage point. Further, if women had equal access to productive resources, they could increase their farm yields by 20-30%, raising total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4% annually and reducing the number of hungry people by 12-17%.

UNDP plans to build on institutional mechanisms for gender mainstreaming, such as the Gender Equality Seal for Public and Private Enterprises. The Seal supports companies to meet gender equality standards in areas related to eliminating gender pay gaps, increasing women’s roles in decision-making and eradicating sexual harassment at work. More than 400 public and private companies in ten countries have been certified under the Gender Equality Seal. UNDP also is working with UN Women to develop the ‘UN country level-SWAP Gender Equality Scorecard,’ which provides a set of standards to promote improved results for women’s empowerment and gender equality, aligned with the SDGs at the country level.

The Strategy identifies entry points for mainstreaming gender equality across diverse development contexts. In a setting where UNDP aims to build resilience to shocks and crisis, for instance, the report proposes a number of strategic entry points, including supporting countries to prepare for shocks, crises and recovery by: regularizing land tenure and legal documentation; giving women and men equal access to insurance schemes; ensuring gender-responsive post-disaster and peacebuilding needs assessments and recovery planning, especially in the areas of health, education, safe drinking water and sanitation, housing and security; supporting partners to promote women’s roles in peacebuilding; and ensuring that policies and plans to prevent violent extremism address the “gender dimensions of extremist ideology.”

UNDP’s Strategy is aligned with the common chapter of the strategic plans of UNDP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), in recognition of the importance of partnering across the UN system to tackle the root causes of persistent gender inequalities.

On 4 February, UNDP and UN Women released a discussion paper setting out arguments for gender equality as an accelerator for progress across all the SDGs. Titled, ‘Gender Equality as an Accelerator for Achieving the SDGs,’ the paper finds that gender equality can be a “catalytic policy intervention” that triggers positive multiplier effects across the development spectrum and the SDGs, particularly in reducing poverty (SDG 1), attaining food security (SDG 2), enhancing human capital through health (SDG 3) and education (SDG 4), addressing climate impacts and strengthening resilience to disasters (SDG 13), and ensuring more peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG 16). The paper recommends adopting a holistic approach to gender equality focused on transforming structures that create and perpetuate gender equalities, in order to support integrated achievement of the SDGs.


This article was originally published by the IISD on February 21, 2019 – UNDP Strategy Highlights How Gender Equality Can Drive SDG Progress. We grant you a nonexclusive, nontransferable, limited right to access, use and display the article, provided that you comply fully with the terms and conditions of the original publisher.

The opinions expressed by the author and the comments made therein are those of the author(s) alone and do not reflect the opinions of the ASCENT or any employee thereof. ASCENT is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the IISD.